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BU vs. Miami


I’m talking college hockey. NCAA national championship, earlier this evening, number one ranked Boston University versus Miami University in the championship game. A painful, dramatic, beautiful game. And a game whose live broadcast we had to miss. I already noted a few posts ago that we missed today’s Masters golf third-round coverage because we attended a wedding. We left it early, after the ceremony but before the party, because we had a memorial service to attend back up here in Seattle. We had just enough time to stop at home and watch the final pair putt out on the golf course, then switch to the hockey game in its second minute before leaving for the memorial. As it turns out, we left the memorial and got to our car exactly as the game ended. But we did record it.

Why do I care? A brief explanation.

It starts my freshman year in college, when I fell in love with college hockey. The two guys in the room next to me in Stoughton Hall were hockey players. One, a local player from Dedham, would go on to be the team captain and star defenseman our senior year. The other, from very northern Quebec, would quit after two weeks because he preferred smoking to skating. I felt a connection to the team, listened to every game on the university radio station (I didn’t get out much freshman year — too busy doing absurdly long physics homeworks, reading lots of books, taking an inane math course), and went to every home game the next three years. And what a time to be a college hockey fan in Boston. There was only one major eastern hockey league, the ECAC. (Now there are two, ECAC and Hockey East.) The annual end-of-season ECAC championship was held at the Boston Garden. And for three years, the NCAA championship was held at the Garden too. (Back then, the NCAA had only four teams, typically two from the east and two from the west.) Harvard was one of the three principal eastern powers, along with BU and Cornell. My sophomore and senior years, Harvard was ranked #1 in the country going into the middle of the season, when we had finals and the team didn’t play for three weeks. Each time, the layoff broke the team’s momentum and it would do poorly to start the second half, never recovering its dominance. BU ended up being the team to beat, winning the national championship in 1971 and 1972. I learned to shift my allegiance once Harvard was eliminated, going to all the ECAC and NCAA games at the Garden and rooting for BU if Harvard wasn’t playing.

Ever since, I have always rooted for Harvard first, any Boston team second, any eastern team third. An article in the NYT today details how Harvard hockey has fallen on hard times since they won the national championship 20 years ago, capping an era in the 1980s when they were regularly in the frozen four and three times in the championship game. Of the four historic Boston hockey powers (BC and Northeastern along with Harvard and BU), Harvard has become the weakest. BC won the national championship last year over Notre Dame. Northeastern, behind the great junior goalie Brad Thiessen, was ranked #3 or #4 in the nation for much of this season before fading on the final weekend of the regular season, allowing BU to pass it for first place in the Hockey East final standings, and then losing early in the Hockey East tournament. It got a #2 seed in the NCAA regional, but lost its opening game. (This is the round of 16, with 16 teams now invited rather than the old 4.) BU had a #1 seed and did as expected, reaching tonight’s final.

So I’m rooting for BU, right? That’s the rule of thumb I described above. Well, things got more complicated three years ago. My friend, colleague, and former boss became president of Miami University. In his first year there, they opened their beautiful new hockey arena. They have become a consistent power in the amazingly tough CCHA (Central Collegiate Hockey Association). Michigan and Michigan State are the historic powers in the league, but more or less simultaneously, Notre Dame and Miami have joined them, giving it four elite schools. Miami was ranked #1 much of the season two years ago, but had a painful loss in the round of 8 of the NCAA, just falling short of the frozen four. Last year, Notre Dame surprised everyone by racing to the championship, losing to BC as noted above. This year Notre Dame was ranked #1 or #2 all year, flip-flopping with BU, but in one of the biggest surprises in NCAA hockey history, lost to Bemidji State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament two weeks ago. Miami had a slightly off year, but peaked just in time, got to the frozen four, beat upstart Bemidji State easily two nights ago, and found itself facing BU in tonight’s championship game.

I had to watch. BU, an old favorite, versus Miami, a new favorite. Except I didn’t. We were at the memorial, where we needed to be, and where I’m glad we were. When we got home, I caught up with the game on the DVR.

BU goes ahead 1-0 in the first period. Miami ties it in the second. With about 7:30 left in the third, Miami scores. Three minutes later they score again. 3-1 Miami. Looking pretty good for them. A little over a minute to go and BU pulls its goalie. 59 seconds left. They score. Faceoff in the middle, goalie back in goal, BU takes control, takes it into the Miami end, goalie pulled again, 17 seconds left, Miami scores again! They scored again! They tied it with two goals 42 seconds apart in the final minute. It can’t be. It was. I don’t know when I’ve ever seen such a wild celebration on the bench (pictured above). With a second to go, Miami almost wins it. The BU goalie puts his glove up, stops a shot, can’t hold on, it gets just behind him, a Miami player takes a stab at the puck inches from the net, the goalie grabs it, the whistle blows. A second later regulation ends.

We didn’t get home in time to see the overtime. I assumed the game was over. I didn’t hurry. We went food shopping instead. Oh well. Worse, I had extended our recording time by half an hour, but that wasn’t enough. The recording ended 9 minutes into the first overtime. The only problem is, the game ended 2 minutes later. I missed it. BU won. Sigh. I love Boston hockey. I love Hockey East. I love eastern hockey. But I love the Miami president, and Miami. It hurts.

Maybe next year. But I’ll be rooting for Northeastern first. Or Harvard first, Northeastern second. Brad Thiessen, the Northeastern goalie, will be a senior. He may be the top player in the country. (He was one of three finalists this year for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in the country. The other two — one of whom received the award yesterday — are BU players and may both be in the NHL next year.) It’s their year to break through. Go Northeastern. And Harvard. And BU. And Miami.

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